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Inaugural 'Engineering Olympics' Attracts 170 High School Students

By Mike McKissack

The inaugural Engineering Olympics competition at College of DuPage recently attracted more than 170 District 502 high school students who learned about and celebrated careers in engineering. Click here to view pictures and a video from this event

During this competition, hosted by the COD Engineering Club, high school students competed for points in three heats involving timed creative design projects focusing on civil, electrical, mechanical and industrial engineering. The first competition included the construction of a paper tower. The second competition combined elements of electrical and mechanical engineering by incorporating circuits, LEDs, motors and vehicle construction into the design of mini carts. The final competition explored industrial engineering, including cost and material choice, by having students design packaging that could protect an egg catapulted through the air.

According to Engineering instructor Scott Banjavcic, the Engineering Olympics event was designed to encourage high school students to pursue education and careers in the field of engineering.

"The U.S. is experiencing a shortage of qualified engineers right now," Banjavcic said. "We aim to get high school students excited about the wonderful experiences that a career in engineering can offer them."

Banjavcic added that the tasks given the students during the competition were developed to encourage creativity and practical problem solving.

"We wanted to give students a taste of the creative side of engineering," Banjavcic said. "Quite often engineering is described as a boring field of study; however, engineering design is all about using mathematics and science to develop creative, innovative solutions to everyday problems that affect all of us."

Banjavcic said the event came together largely through the efforts of more than 50 students from the COD Engineering Club.

"These students dedicated their free time to make this competition a success," Banjavcic said. "In the process of creating the materials for the contestants and managing the competition, they also learned a great deal about the time and effort necessary to host an event of this scope."

Fenton high school teacher Ben Nelson was pleased with the program and hopes to see similar events in the future.

"This experience was a great way for the students to exhibit creativity and apply what they're learning in the classroom to real life situations," Nelson said. "We'll definitely be back next year."

Karen Beardsley, a teacher at Glenbard East, who brought members of the high school's STEM club, was also pleased with the event and noted the need for similar opportunities.

"This was fantastic," Beardsley said. "There are not many competitions of this sort for high school students. It's great to see increasing interplay between institutions of higher education and high schools."

Many of the high school students in attendance expressed their enthusiasm about the competition and the opportunity to be creative, apply engineering principles and compete against their peers. Sierra Strandberg, a junior at Fenton high school who plans to pursue petroleum engineering, said she enjoyed the inventive aspects of the Engineering Olympics.

"This competition forced you to be creative," Strandberg said. "I really like that the categories required us to use different aspects of engineering as well as the hands-on elements of the projects."

Willowbrook High School Senior Tom Waters, who plans to pursue a career as a mechanical engineer, said he has had an interest in engineering since childhood. He added that he was pleased to be part of the competition and enjoyed the opportunity to solve practical problems.

"The competition made me more aware of the real-world situations I would face as an engineer," Waters said. "Specifically, I learned a lot about working under time constraints and as part of a team."

The Engineering program at College of DuPage provides the first two years of baccalaureate work, including courses covering circuits, chemistry, computer programming, engineering graphics, general studies, mathematics, mechanics and physics. Students generally transfer to baccalaureate-granting institutions where they can earn a bachelor's degree in Engineering that prepares them for registration wide range of professions. In addition, College of DuPage has partnered with the University of Illinois to offer the 2+2 Pathways to Engineering program which facilitates a smooth transition and guaranteed admission to the prestigious baccalaureate Engineering program at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Click here for more information on the Engineering program at College of DuPage.